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The light in the house

NID student Tanumoy Bose set out to document the loneliness of a lighthouse attendant. Instead, he found Chamanbhai, aka Charlie

In January this year, Tanumoy Bose sat staring at the map of India. He was looking for a subject that would help him complete his semester’s documentary assignment, when his eyes fell on an island off Gujarat. “It was not the name of the island, Samiyani, that attracted my attention, but its population of one. I knew I had a story waiting to be told,” says the final-year
NID student.

During the making of the film, Chamanbhai  lamented that none had appreciated his work until then
During the making of the film, Chamanbhai  lamented that none had appreciated his work until then

After a month-long effort to obtain permission to shoot at the sensitive island — it lies 90 km from Karachi — Bose set off to Okha, which is the headquarters of lighthouses in Gujarat. A bus ride from Ahmedabad took him to Dwarka, and a casual check with the bus conductor on how he’d reach Okha, had him introduced to Chamanbhai — the man who’d go on to be the protagonist in his 21-minute film. Serendipitously, Chamanbhai — who spends a fortnight at a stretch on the island — was then heading back to Gandhidham after a two-day break.

“When I told him that I was actually looking for him and that I wanted to make a film on him, Chamanbhai’s excitement was palpable,” says the 26-year-old filmmaker, whose film Sagar Manav won the Best Short Documentary at the July International Film Festival of Kerala in Thiruvananthapuram.

Tanumoy Bose
Tanumoy Bose

Bose says, “Before meeting him, I had decided to make a silent film with natural sounds to express the loneliness of a man who lives away from his family, and speaks to no one through the day.” That changed when he started speaking to Chamanbhai, or Charlie (as his friends call him).

“His sense of humour is spontaneous. It’s a characteristic that’s made him the de facto an entertainer at all community gatherings, especially weddings,” Bose adds.

“Here was a man who loved people and was living on an island with no electricity, all by himself. We shot over a span of five days. And, every 12 hours we had to take a boat to the city to charge our cameras and phones,” he continues.

Chamanbhai was given one brief — to go about his day’s work as he would. He starts his day by brewing a cup of tea and says prayers at the island’s temple and mazar. He spends the day with odd chores — cleaning the lighthouse, sweeping the floors, updating his boss on the phone, and calling his son to remind him to “take care of mother”.

“He was camera friendly, didn’t falter or get conscious. I wanted the film to narrate his loneliness, his dedication to his work and what he gets back in return. Here is a 56-year-old man who has spent 30 years taking care of lighthouses,” says Bose. The subject took a liking to Bose and his team, and would catch fresh fish and crabs and cook them in his simple, yet scrumptious masalas.

Underneath the witty jokes, and infectious laughter, Chamanbhai also nurtured an angst. During the shoots, says Bose, Chamanbhai would break down, and confess that no one, until then, had told him he was doing a good job. “The next minute he would crack up and ask ‘kaisa tha mera acting?’”

“In India, since the 1950s, documentaries show people crying. Is that the only way to tell a story? My college guide, Arun Gupte, told me to get rooted and make films people like. It is the best way to draw attention to a subject, however morose. Just like Hrishikesh Mukherjee did it with Anand. Filmmaker Avijit Mukul Kishore’s short film, Snapshots of a Family, is
my inspiration.”

Charlie’s story is now heading for Irkutsk, the Russian film festival held at Baikal, Siberia, in September. “But, the screening fee is killing,” Bose confesses.

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